For Vincennes University Bookstores' Director Karen Faulkner, collegiate retail is about putting students first. She and Marketing Director Aimee Cummings regularly host bookstore events that draw hundreds of students, drive word of mouth and nurture the bookstore’s reputation as a lively campus hub. We sat down with Ms. Faulkner and Ms. Cummings to ask about what makes events successful, how they affect campus bookstore marketing and why fun events can never really fail.
What were some of your most successful bookstore events?
Ms. Faulkner: The snow cone, popcorn and 20 percent off coupon event. We combined all those in one. The students absolutely loved those snow cones. It was crazy. We had whole classes coming over. One student would get a snow cone, take it back to class, then the rest of the class would follow. It was something we planned just the week before. We got ice for free from the university and only had to buy the syrups.
I looked at our stats from that day. It was just this little spur-of-the moment thing. But we gave away 224 snow cones and over 100 bags of popcorn, and we sold over $2,000 worth of clothing in three hours.
Ms. Cummings: We also did a Facebook Live post, which is a good way to show students that they should be sure to pop into the bookstore because everyone there is having fun.
How do you usually gauge success for events?
Ms. Faulkner: It’s about the student experience. We don’t want students to see the bookstore as a place they’re forced to go for course materials. We want them to want to come here. We want them to know they can always find a surprise waiting for them here or an event they can plan the day around. Of course, we love selling the clothes. But that’s really a byproduct.
How does hosting an event fit into larger collegiate retail goals?
Ms. Faulkner: It gives the students a positive experience and it’s a great marketing tool.
Ms. Cummings: It has a huge impact on word of mouth. Maybe a student comes to an event and buys a sweatshirt. They wear that sweatshirt to class and another student says, ‘Hey, where did you get that?’
Ms. Faulkner: It also bonds student coworker relationships. When students come to events, they laugh and have a good time. We all have a good time. It puts a positive spin on our day that feeds over into the days to come.
What kind of marketing do you do for campus bookstore events?
Ms. Cummings: I like to send the students an email a week before the event, a day before and the day of the event as a reminder.
Ms. Faulkner: We utilize the social media outlets. We have digital signs here on campus where we can post messages about free popcorn or a 20 percent off flash sale.
What advice would you give others in collegiate retail about planning events?
Ms. Faulkner: Think outside the box. Find out what other schools are doing. As they say, imitation is the best form of flattery. If something doesn’t work, just scrap that idea and try something else.
Ms. Cummings: Go by the school calendar and make sure you have a timeline, too.
Ms. Faulkner: We sit down and schedule events every month. But if something happens like our basketball team wins 10 games in a row, then we’ll schedule a little pop up event around that.
Have you ever had an event that didn’t work out?
We had one event with apple cider slushies. We were so excited about apple cider slushies. We were raring to go. But it ended up being 30 degrees that day and rainy. No one wanted a cold apple cider slushie. We were laughing at ourselves. Okay, we didn’t do the 200-plus slushies like we did with the snow cones, but the students really had fun with the 40 or 50 we did hand out. We still came away feeling like winners. We just had a lot of apple cider slushies left over.